Chat with... Daniel Lee, Melissa Levethan and Andrew Griffing of Griffin Lee Artisans
NEW CANAAN — Just a few years ago, Daniel Lee and Melissa Levethan were contemplating leaving their New Canaan home for Charleston, S.C.
The couple — who will be married on June 18 at Waveny House — may have gone, if not for a fateful trip to Arizona and a chance sighting of artisanal tables that captured their collective interest.
“We saw these fabulous tables with the knots and infusions filled with turquoise. Dan came up with the idea of using American black walnut wood and copper instead of the turquoise,” said Levethan, president and head of marketing at Griffin Lee Artisans.
“It kind of started from there,” added Levethan, seated next to Lee, the company’s finish craftsman and design consultant, and Andrew Griffing, master craftsman and a partner to Lee and Levethan since Griffin Lee was born just over a year ago.
Together, Lee and Griffing — who have worked as general con
“We’re creating art from the Earth,” Levethan said.
According to the craftsmen, American black walnut was chosen for several reasons: It’s indigenous to the area, its natural color doesn’t require any finish or stain, and it is more dense and more impervious to moisture than many other hardwoods, such as cherry and maple.
“Maple especially has more movement in it; it’s more cellular. It absorbs and lets out moisture,” said Griffing, who is a New Milford resident. “We wouldn’t put it in between glass because in summertime it might swell up to the point that it pinches the glass.”
The Starphire glass — which has a bluish-hue, as opposed to the greenish-hue of more common types of glass — is hand cut in Griffin Lee’s Danbury workshop to fit the natural curves of two slabs of black walnut wood between which it will be placed.
“Hand cutting glass is not easy. The Starphire glass is expensive, and we usually use a half-inch cut, which is thicker and harder to cut. And the more curves, the more difficult to cut,” said Lee, who has lived in New Canaan for 35 years and raised his four kids in town.
But Lee and Griffing are not limited in the materials they’re willing to use. Buyers can customize their tables, both built-ins and mantles. One customer asked them to fasten pool-table legs to the bottom of his custom design. For another, the pair are incorporating a donated, glass airplane windshield.
“I try to come up with something different each time,” Griffing said.
Creating a unique product is a priority for both men, who strive to separate themselves from mass producers of furniture by mixing quality and originality.
Levethan, in her role as head of marketing, said she fully supports the creativity of each of her craftsmen.
“What happens in the shop stays in the shop. I have 1,000 percent faith that these two are going to produce a beautiful product,” Levethan said. “We all kind of do our own things and we work well together.”
In its first year, Griffin Lee has begun selling its tables, but they’ve also donated work to the Carriage Barn Art Center and the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, of which Lee is a veteran. This Saturday, another of their tables will be donated to be auctioned off at the Glass House’s 10th Annual Summer Party.
At the Glass House, Griffin Lee’s mix of nature and art will be complemented by Philip Johnson’s iconic mid-century modern home built among New Canaan’s hills.
“It seemed to be a nice fit for us,” Lee said.